circa 1980’s The Bay Area
“No, she does a great deal through her assistant but never in person. She and her poor daughter are virtually prisoners. I do not know why, but they never leave and never entertain. Odd. Definitely odd.”
After Mrs. Goodfellow left, Samuel reviewed the conversation mentally. Why did Rachel Stapleton lie about Mrs. Goodfellow, and why did she personally visit my shop in such a covert manner? Why? Rachel Harrison – who is she? All that I know about her is that she is five-three, twenty-three, single, extremely lovely, and I am hopelessly in love with her. What madness this is! I wish it was tomorrow afternoon.
Samuel did not have a restful night. He kept seeing Rachel’s face fading into the fog. She cried for help, but Samuel could not move. He seemed totally paralyzed. Her agonizing shrieks made him restless and frustrated.
The drive to Belmont the next afternoon was pleasant. Samuel took his time, and Rachel’s portrait, covered with cambric, rested in the back seat.
At the mansion Charles Jenkins welcomed Samuel and led him to the drawing room. He had to wait about twenty minutes before Rachel Stapleton joined him. During his wait, he had studied the old masterpieces and had gained a deeper appreciation for them.
“You have a fine collection, Mrs. Stapleton.”
“Thank you, Mr. Taylor. I am so happy that you have consented to sell me the portrait. It will have a good home here.”
“I am not going to sell, Mrs. Stapleton.”
“What? Alarm filled her voice. “Wasn’t the check enough? I will double it!”
Samuel handed her the check. “No amount of money could make me sell. I have a condition. Let me see your daughter, and the portrait is yours.”
“Out of the question,” she stated frankly.
“Why? Are you afraid that I may discover the truth?”
“My daughter is very ill. Please take your check and leave,” she pleaded.
“No! You want this portrait for a definite reason. You will not tell me your reason. Ergo, I will exchange the portrait for one visit with your daughter.”
“My daughter hasn’t had a visitor since her skiing accident seven years ago.”
“I must see her,” he implored earnestly.
“All right. Only for a few minutes. She tires quickly.”
“Please wait here. Charles will show you to her room after I prepare her for your visit. May I take the portrait?”
“Yes.” She took the portrait and disappeared up the stairs. Waiting for Charles, Samuel kept watching the time. He became more nervous with each passing second. In twenty minutes Charles appeared at the door and escorted Samuel up to Anna Rachel’s room.
Samuel entered the room as the nurse left. In bed laid the sleeping reincarnation of Rachel Harrison, except for her pale face and thin frame.
“Rachel,” the name eased from his lips.
Slowly, her green eyes opened. They seemed laden with sadness and sorrow, yet there was a serene contentment buried in them.
“Hi!” She spoke softly. “You must be Mr. Taylor.”
“Yes, I’m Samuel Taylor.”
“My mother has mentioned you. You are an artist.”
“Correct. Miss Stapleton. I believe I met and painted your double recently.”
“That’s not possible. I am an only child, Mr. Taylor. As you can see, it could not have been me,” she smiled weakly.
Even her voice, soft and sweet, is like Rachel Harrison, he mused. This poor girl is forever confined. Somehow it is so unfair. So inhuman. So cruel.
“Miss Stapleton, it must have been a rare and precious coincidence. They say we all have a double in this world.”
“I hope she isn’t like me. I mean with my condition. Please tell me about her.”
“She was graceful, like a lily swan. Lovely. Filled with life, but in comparison to you, her beauty fades like the evening rays. You possess such rare quality, like a Black Star of India, so rich in texture and so silky sable to the eyes.”
A claret blush spread over Rachel’s face. It seemed to add a drop of life to her lusterless appearance.
“I find it hard to believe that you find me such a rare treasure when there is someone out there, living life and not wasting away day by day in this bed of morbidness. I appreciate your tender pity.”
“Pity? I was not expressing pity, Miss Stapleton. My comments were genuine. If you may forgive my impudence, I believe sitting on your balcony in the fresh air and sunshine would restore a great amount of lost life to you.”
“Can it undo the physical damage to my legs, Mr. Taylor? My condition is deteriorating, and I do not want to entertain hopelessness,” she replied sharply.
“It pains me greatly to see a young lady as gorgeous as you pine away needlessly in self-pity,” the words came before Samuel fully realized what he had said.
“Mr. Taylor, one of your faults certainly isn’t dishonesty, but if you had been in this condition for the last seven years, your viewpoint hopefully would be different. In many ways I have resigned myself to this life. Please, do not judge me harshly for the way that I have chosen to live it,” her voice sounded weaker.
Samuel felt remorse for his pointed comment. “Miss Stapleton, I had no right to talk to you like that. I just wish things were different. Please forgive me.”
“You are forgiven. I feel so drained.”
“I will go and allow you to rest.”
“Thank you for coming. Will you come again?”
“Do you want me to come again?”
“Yes, I do,” she smiled.
“It’s a date.” Samuel picked up her hand and kissed it tenderly. It was so fragile, so lifeless. It was hard for Samuel to keep his tears inside. She smiled and closed her eyes.
Charles took him back to the drawing room and asked him to wait. During his wait he pondered on the two Rachels.
“Mr. Taylor, I thank you for your kindness,” Mrs. Stapleton said as she came into the room.
“I believe I know why you wanted that portrait. Rachel has lost the will to live.”
“True, I wanted a reminder of my daughter, a real reminder. That portrait is a true representation of her spirit. I wish I could meet the young lady who posed for it.” She bit her lip, holding her tears inside.
“Your daughter must have been like her once.”
“Mr. Taylor, I appreciate you giving me something that you cherished dearly, almost loved.”
“No, I did love and do love Rachel Harrison. I was totally convinced that she had a connection to you.”
“What made you suspect that, Mr. Taylor?’ She grew nervous.
“Coming into my shop the next morning, lying about Mrs. Goodfellow, wanting the portrait and the exorbitant offer.”
“I am sorry that I lied to you. I did not know about the portrait. Charles and I were passing by, and the impression struck me to enter your shop.”
“What about Mrs. Goodfellow?”
“I saw her name on an unfinished painting of a seashell,” her voice was tense.
“I see,” he smiled. No mystery at all. Just a string of coincidences. “One question: do you plan to show Rachel the portrait?”
“Yes, I hope to rekindle her spirit by it, Mr. Taylor. It has such life in it. Such earnest love and joy. It may inspire my Rachel, my dear, dear sweet child.”
“I truly hope so, Mrs. Stapleton. It would be so unfair for her to die without experiencing life’s joys. She has known enough sorrow for a hundred life times.”
Charles showed Samuel to the door. Mrs. Stapleton stood in the foyer. When Charles turned, he said, “Shouldn’t he be told the truth?”
“No, it would only complicate and maybe ruin his life forever. We cannot do that to such a nice man.”
To be continued…
G. D. Williams © 2011